Feeling Undervalued As A Journalist?

Do you have a shutdown ritual? Do you even know what a shutdown ritual is? According to a blog on mediacurrent, a shutdown ritual is a set routine of actions that you perform at the end of each workday to finalise your day and signify that your workday is done. Many of us need that full stop to end proceedings, and for many of us, it’s also the first step to beginning the next day.

On my phone I have a routine app that features the core daily tasks I have to ‘tick off’ each day. Many of these tasks are personal, things like taking a shower and setting aside 15-minutes for meditation, while other tasks are designed around giving my brain the information ‘fuel’ I need to keep myself updated with the world around me, like reading the news for 30-minutes and checking Twitter.

But one routine focuses on prep – aptly called the shutdown ritual.

Part of my personal shutdown ritual, and one of the core tasks I try to complete each day, is setting out exactly every work task I need to complete the next day. It’s not just the task I write down on a separate ‘to-do list’ app, it’s the exact requirements of the said task.

For example, I frequently write down “write Chiefs feature in 800 words or less” if I have a story due the next day or “research stats on disability employment” if I am preparing to pitch a project to an outlet. If I need to get guidance from an editor or talk through ideas, I’ll write something like “call newsroom to discuss angle X”.

The shutdown ritual also touches on personal appointments or tasks. Does my partner need something in particular from me on this day? I’ll write down exactly what she needs and the steps I need to take to deliver.

It’s all about the detail and the pre-planning is a crucial part of both executing these tasks. It’s also a core fundamental for my own sanity. Almost always, and trust me it happens a hell of a lot, when I don’t have a productive day (or even a productive week), it’s because I haven’t taken the time the day before to list out the agenda for said day or week.

You might read a task such as “write Chiefs feature in 800 words or less” and think that it’s fairly clear cut. But for me, the 800 bit is crucial because it gives me parameters, I now know the ideal word count so can begin thinking about its scope.

My list will also set out the exact time I will submit the story – usually an hour before deadline if possible.

I believe that the same idea can be applied to just about anything you do, whether written down in an app or not.

Want to know why so many people don’t execute on their work or don’t take that next step toward something bigger? It’s not so much that they fail, it’s the lack of attention to the how. For that, I have to give credit to a former mentor of mine and fellow disability advocate Jade Farrar, during our working relationship I marvelled at just how much time and energy he put into the small things that many of us overlooked.

I also have to credit some of the professional rugby players and coaches I speak to on a weekly basis. Their amount of thought and planning on game plans, physical shape, recovery and much more just makes the mind explode when you hear about how it’s all being put into action. A guy like Anton Lienert-Brown is a fine example of that, a deep thinker about his craft and the impact being a man in the spotlight can have on those around him whilst also knowing how to switch off and get away.

Cool Story Mike, So What’s The Point Exactly?

During these ever-increasing times, particularly in our work, it’s crucial that we allow ourselves to check it all at the door but not forget our value by underselling.

This may mean different things for different people, but for me, recent times have really forced a lot of reflection on the motives and value behind what I do, particularly as a freelance journalist. Just this week I went on Reddit and asked other freelancers about their approach to drawing a line in the sand and saying no when you start thinking your hard work is being taken advantage of.

Just a bit of context. The media business is short on money right now. Newsrooms are downsizing not expanding, journalists who were previously employed are now being asked to work as contractors and pitch stories on an individual basis.

It’s a tough industry at the best of times and, sadly, many of those who only care about the spreadsheets are putting editors in extremely tough positions by forcing them to let some of their very best writers go, or at the very least, take a hefty pay cut.

But for me, I didn’t actually understand how much time, energy and effort I was putting into my work for these different outlets until I did a bit of a google on myself. When you google ‘Michael Pulman Journalist’ it should take you to a site called Muckrack which pulls together all the clips that I’ve written for the various mainstream media outlets in the past year or two.

Turns out, I’ve done a fair bit of work. Then I began to think back to the process of writing those pieces that went on to be picked up by outlets and published in print.

It came down to the work, obviously, but it was also the quality of the process that was put around those particular articles. Few of those articles were rush jobs, looking back at my to-do lists from those particular dates showed me that I had taken the time to perform that shutdown ritual where I had the patience to map out, 1 what the task was, 2 when it was due, and 3 what the parameters for it all were.

Being a freelancer in an ever-competitive media space often makes you feel like you’ve got to be on the button constantly, ready to pitch a story at a moments notice and do it before anyone else, then get it written and out the door within an hour or two so it’s timely.

Some of that might be true, but a lot of it is also complete bullshit. Being timely on a piece doesn’t make it good, keeping up appearances might help forge good relationships, but the real work is often done in isolation where the outside influences don’t help deliver the final product.

You deliver the product, nobody else really holds you accountable if you are a freelancer. If you do deliver and hold yourself accountable to everything that’s involved in doing something of quality, you’ve got to understand that there is some real value in that.

When I posted on Reddit I asked a very simple question to some fellow freelancers.

Would you do all this and not expect to be paid? Would you provide that scoop and a quality, thought-provoking read for little more than thanks and handshake?

Sooner or later, you’ve got to flick that switch and stop beating yourself up over the things you cannot control. Speaking purely from the media landscape for a moment – you’ll likely have a hundred doors closed on you before one eventually opens a bit.

Guess how many times I had to work for free before any doors opened? I estimate that I’ve worked for free for well over three of my six years working in the media industry.

The doors started to open when I focused on the story, not the number of stories. As a freelancer, I’ve so often been guilty of focusing far too much on volume as opposed to value. If you’re motivated by volume and nothing else, you have no room to improve. I want to improve, I want to be the very best I can be at what I do, and yes, I want to feel valued by the outlets I write for.

So if you’re out there and you’re in a similar boat to me, please know you’re not alone. If you know you’re doing all you can then there is your value right there. Please do all you can to ensure your work is valued.

The Last of Us Part II Review: The Best Game On PlayStation

It’s been seven long years since Ellie and Joel’s epic journey across America catapulted Naughty Dog to the very top of storytelling in gaming. The brave move into more mature themes paid off in spades with some of the best moment to moment combat and tense presentation gamers had ever experienced.

Frankly, there is little doubt that 2013’s blockbuster was the very best single-player experience ever released on PlayStation.

Following on from the original, Naughty Dog hasn’t just beaten all expectations with The Last of Us Part II (TLOU2), it’s taken the story in a bold, perhaps even divisive direction that consistently surprises throughout its roughly 20-hour campaign.

It’s also a gruesome, uncomfortable and thought-provoking experience that pushes adult themes rarely seen to this degree in videogames. Culminating in one final moment that made me question certain aspects of characters I had grown to love, TLOU2 delivers a narrative that few will expect (spoilers aside).  

Ellie Is Older But Further Emotionally Flawed…  

Five years have passed since the events of the original game. Ellie, now 19, is the same complicated yet loveable character you remember but you quickly notice the signs of her emotional instability.

Joel is back and carries the weight of his decisions from the end of the last game but remains unchanged in it being the right thing to do.

There is a high degree of tension between Ellie and Joel from the outset, unanswered questions from the ending of the last game linger in Ellie’s mind while Joel remains the typical protector at all costs, refusing to even talk about why he didn’t leave her in that hospital last time round.

Tommy is also back for another stint, standing by his brother Joel and also maintaining a key sense of duty to protect Ellie.

The safe surroundings of Jackson introduce us to several new characters early in the game. Namely, new friend and growing love interest Dina who rides alongside Ellie on a day of patrol in the snow. The connection between the two is noticeable from the outset, presenting a truly innocent fledgling love story that is frequent during the early events in the game.

There is also Jesse, former boyfriend of Dina who in almost every way is one of the most chilled out characters despite the challenging moments he finds himself in along the way.

We then meet Abby. And yes, as it turns out, Abby is that female character fans first saw during the second teaser trailer for the game back in 2017.

Abby’s part in the story emerges very early on, and without giving spoilers away, she becomes an integral part of the overall campaign. Abby’s motivations are complicated and she is far from the typical one-dimensional part of the story to serve Ellie’s wider journey that many may want.

Alongside Abby, there is Owen and several other characters connected to the Washington Liberation Front (WLF), otherwise known as the Wolfs, who form one of the core groups of adversaries Ellie faces throughout TLOU2.

A Bloodbath In Seattle…

Day one in Jackson ends in a shocking moment that sets in motion an uncomfortable story of revenge. Chasing vengeance, you arrive in Seattle which serves as the major backdrop for the game.

Seattle really is a beautiful and detailed world that Naughty Dog wants you to get lost in, gameplay actively encourages exploration in between its incredible combat. My only complaint is the rain… it honestly never stops raining in this city!  

There are large open areas with tall grass to hide in, abandoned houses to ransack, moss overgrown skyscrapers, broken highways, rivers with floating bits of old cardboard, and the occasional human remains rotting away in corners with an infected nearby makes for the most vividly grim and detailed world Naughty Dog has ever created.

Resources are everywhere and there are also more collectables in TLOU2, including old magazines and letters which tell informative stories about the lives, interests and challenges of people who lived in this world prior to everything falling apart.

The infected are back roaming the land with new incarnations, all of which more terrifying than the next. Runners, clickers, stalkers, bloaters and the new shambler present infected enemies that are smarter, faster and more of a handful to deal with than the last game.

Like in the original, killing infected in TLOU2 always feels like a painful but necessary experience in order to survive. The gargles, screams and howling when you shoot dead a clicker for instance never failed to send a great deal of both dread and fear down my spine during gameplay.

The third major group of enemies are the Seraphites, known by the WLF as Scars. A religious cult who communicate primarily through whistling, the Seraphites primarily use bows and melee weapons in combat and believe that the terrible events that impact the world of TLOU2 are a result of human sin.

In between the horror, a tactical stealth approach is always required to mastering infected enemies and another real strength of combat in TLOU2 is how the same approach applies to human enemies. As a player, you’ve got to make decisions before getting into combat about the best way of going about it. Taking your time and working down singular enemies through stealth rather than going in all guns blazing is almost always the better approach, and toward the latter end of the game, that also becomes a real but important challenge because many waves of enemies are often lurking just out of site.

Couple that with minimal amounts of ammo at all times, combat in TLOU2 is full of the same tension and tactical thinking that made the original so good and every aspect of this is improved.

Whether it be just a handful of enemies or several groups, I found myself coming out of every moment of combat in TLOU2 feeling that I’d had to call on all my skills as a gamer which provided an immense sense of satisfaction that left me feeling excited and equally terrified about the next encounter.

All this is presented with a minimal UI not too dissimilar from the original, new weapons and crafting abilities, plus stunning its visuals that push the PS4 Pro to its absolute limits with open world environments built into a traditional linear level design that packs some of the best audio in gaming.

The Last of Us Part II Is Not What You Expect… Or Is It?

Many might have the expectation of coming into this game and continuing the adventures of Ellie and Joel. At least, if you’ve managed to avoid any of the leaks at least.

Nothing could be further than the truth. TLOU2 takes itself in a direction that not many will expect.

This is a game about tribalism, love, the inability to let go of hate and revenge going too far.

TLOU2 shows the characters that fans of this franchise have come to love in a different, imperfect, and at times, deeply unlikeable way. Everything is more mature this time round, except for the motivations of some of the key characters.

When I finished the game the night before writing this review, my thoughts and feelings toward Ellie, Joel and all the other characters had changed so much from when I first started that a few of them were barely recognizable.

I totally got why Ellie, as an example, is the vengeful 19-year old she is, I just questioned her ability to see past it at any moment for the greater good of those around her. Ellie is incapable of listening to reason for a lot of this game, and as you’re forced to take her through that journey, you’ll often wonder what she expects to get out of it all.

I sense that this was a very deliberate tactic by the storytellers at Naughty Dog. Back in the day, game director Neil Druckmman was very clear that TLOU2 acts as the second part, not altogether a sequel, and I know why now.

TLOU2 is an experience that feels like the second part of its original. Within that is the unexpected. Is this person really who I thought they were? Is the group I am fighting alongside capable of any empathy? Are the enemies in our way truly all bad and worthy of the slaughter?

Those were just some of the questions I had myself when playing through, and not all of them were answered by the end either.

Simply put, TLOU2 is all about tension and different gamers will react differently to the events taking place when they finally get their hands on it. It should be a game that is talked about, it’s graphic and deliberate violence coupled with a primarily female cast will surely divide opinion about the bigger messages behind the story.

What cannot be denied is that TLOU2 wraps all this up in an utterly fantastic gaming experience that can, and should, be played in a multitude of different ways. By far the best PS4 exclusive, TLOU2 is a memorable and uncomfortable adventure that you simply must play to understand why it’s so annoyingly good.

MY RATING: 10/10

Fitbit Joining The COVID-19 Fight With ‘Cheaper’ New Ventilator

Last week, Fitbit announced what they’re calling the Fitbit Flow, a low-cost emergency ventilator that will be available in the United States and around the world for COVID-19 patients when there are shortages of traditional ventilators.

Current estimates show that the number of ventilators in the United States range from 60,000 to 160,000, far below the 2M confirmed cases.

Seeing an opportunity to help respond to the urgent need both now and into the future, Fitbit Flow has quickly been granted Emergency Use Authorisation by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for use on people in need.

Fitbit co-founder and CEO James Park says that the experience the company has with sensor development and a global supply chain made the task of producing a fit for purpose, cheaply priced ventilator a wise decision.

“We saw an opportunity to rally our expertise in advanced sensor development, manufacturing, and our global supply chain to address the critical and ongoing need for ventilators and help make a difference in the global fight against this virus”, Park said.

Specifically designed to be easy to use, it’s also hoped that the Fitbit Flow will help reduce the strain on highly specialized who are typically required to operate a commercial ventilator.

Fitbit Flow builds on standard resuscitator bags, like those used by paramedics, with sophisticated instruments, sensors, and alarms that work together to support automated compressions and patient monitoring.

During development and testing, Fitbit consulted with Oregon Health & Science University emergency medicine clinicians caring for COVID-19 patients at OHSU Hospital and worked with several other working groups on the design to meet the needs of practitioners.

Less Politics, More Humanity For An America Tearing Itself Apart

Before you say anything, I understand that a New Zealander with no affiliation to Republican or Democrat writing a blog about an issue that isn’t even taking place in his own country will probably draw a few eye rolls. Furthermore, I’m not African American and I’ve got no understanding of the deep sadness, anger and frustration that this portion of people are feeling right now.

I understand all of that. I’m simply writing this blog as a fellow human being, albeit most likely an uneducated one.

What’s happening across America this weekend is so troubling that it drew me to tears. As a self-confessed news addict, not much phases me these days. In the last year alone, we’ve lived through the COVID-19 pandemic, the mosque attacks in Christchurch, White Island erupting, earthquakes and an economy which has seen hundreds of thousands lose their jobs.

Most of that is just in New Zealand. What’s happening in America is much worse, or at least that’s how it feels to me.

Would this have happened under any other president than Donald Trump? Yes, in fact it’s happened many times before.

This is not about Trump and his precedency and to label it is such makes a mockery of the pain being felt in America right now. Trump is a symptom of a system in that country which has been broken for decades, it’s just appearing to erupt at the time when he is at the helm.

What Trump can be accused of both a lack of leadership and fueling the fire of not just a racial divide, but a societal divide. The president has made no effort to heal those wounds, as exampled by some of his antics on Twitter during the riots which are leaving cities in America literally on fire.

Trump has called the rioters “radical lefties” in a bid to make this deep pain a political issue. It’s almost as if Trump is trying to say that the riots are a personal attack from the left against his bid for another term of presidency.

And then there is Joe Biden and the democrat party, many of whom have been pretty silent while all this has been going down. Biden, nor anyone backing him on the democratic side, have the capability of fixing this issue. Ask the rioters on the streets of LA and Minneapolis this weekend, they’ve all said it’s about racism, not a particular political party or a particular politician.

Sadly, the answer isn’t simply voting Trump out and Biden in this November. Arguably, there shouldn’t even be an election at this point. I say that because it’s my sense, as a curious bystander, that the issues which the repressed Black America are facing can’t even begin to be addressed in an election campaign or policy.

That’s exactly why Trump, the man many blame for this chaos, hasn’t been able to enact any change, regardless of the lack of effort shown.

Racism is political, but not only political. Fixing it goes beyond politics, it requires people being able to find a bit of common ground. Good politicians can do that, but only if they’ve got good parties behind them. In America right now, both the Democrat and the Republican parties are unlikely to come together and agree on any appropriate response to the utterly heartbreaking scenes we’ve all seen this past weekend.

Doing that requires an acknowledgment that the issue actually exists. If you go back to the rioters for a moment, what are they all feeling and saying? Most of them, according to what we’ve seen anyway, are all saying they feel unheard and unacknowledged.

On that note, I don’t really know what else to say. I can’t listen to those who want to blame this all on Trump, nor can I disagree that he has to go come the November election, but I’m also sitting here and looking at everything I’m seeing and I shake my head when I hear that anyone else in American politics can solve this.

Biden can’t, in the eyes of many the incumbent Democratic nominee has a proven track record of racism.

America needs calm, composed and thoughtful leadership right now. But what it needs a bit more is empathy and a willingness to listen. Otherwise, you’ll get more Trumps in the White House in future years, you’ll get more politics instead of basic human decency, and you’ll get more examples of the tragic, racist death of George Floyd.

Our COVID-19 Lockdown Lessons Were A Good Thing

Almost a week has passed since New Zealand lifted itself out of COVID-19 alert level 4, bringing with it a slight reprieve from the most restrictive times our nation has ever seen.

Never before, and maybe never again, will an entire population come to a standstill in the way it did throughout the month of April. Never again will the majority of us with the smarts required have the opportunity, perhaps even time, to think about how we really feel about the crazy thing we call our lives.

So what does it all mean for the future? Whilst times are still uncertain, if the state of national lockdown taught us New Zealanders anything, it should be just how lucky we’ve always been. 

Access to the environment, to our friends, to our work. Most of it wasn’t given a second thought by most prior to all this. Those same old roads, footpaths, lakes and parks, places of work, coffee shops and the people outside of our little circle that we spend the majority of the time trying to please or convince.

Oh, and those glorious takeaways! We sure as hell missed those!

We missed it all during the course of the national lockdown. It tested our mental health, our relationships, perhaps even our very lifestyles. And honestly, it’s about damn time.

The ones that were quick to try and break the rules were class examples of selfish, immature and ignorant. The ones that complained to all that would listen on social media about being stuck at home with nothing to do suddenly realised how meaninglessly frantic their typical day-to-day lives were prior to lockdown, you know the lives where social commitments and keeping everyone in your outer circle matters most? Yeah, those ones. 

It all kind of makes me feel happy to be a socially challenges introvert with a very small circle of friends. I didn’t have to miss a whole lot during the lockdown, I had what I needed right there with me (partner, cats, food etc).  

Thankfully, the smarts of most shone bright and we managed to do enough to have the restrictions eased somewhat, allowing us to now enjoy some of those basic pleasures like getting a coffee or going out for a quick fish. 

The easing of lockdown also allowed some of us to see close family for the first time in over a month, something I personally am very thankful for. 

The tone of this blog may bring out a rolling of the eyes depending on your viewpoint on the world around you. But I do implore you, if you couldn’t use this time to take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself some important questions, you’re probably missing the bigger point here. 

The point is, the majority of you reading this are privileged, you really are.

I know, it sucks to have that pointed out, but I’m not talking about privilege in the terms of materials. I’m talking about privilege in terms of the options you have in the world around you, many of those options were taken away during the lockdown and it forces you to deal with, and make the best of, the things you actually had on hand and not the things you could get. 

Do you feel me? I guess in a roundabout way, what I’m really trying to say here is use the experience of COVID to appreciate the little things in life a little more. If you don’t appreciate those you shared your bubble with, ask yourself why.

COVID should have taught us all a lot of things in all honesty. If it didn’t teach you anything, you’re proving my point.

But don’t worry, there is still time.

Revealed PS5 Controller Signals Sony’s Clear Attempt To Diversify

Sony revealed what they are calling the DualSense wireless controller which will come paired with each PS5 when the console launches later this year.

The controller is busy to look at it, that’s not altogether a bad thing but certainly, it’s a departure from the traditional simplistic look that Sony have traditionally adopted.

Two colours, black and white, with the same blue lightbar visuals that this time are placed on either side of a largely unchanged touchpad.

Prior to the reveal, some speculated that the next controller could forego the touchpad entirely as it was largely unused by a lot of developers on the PS4. Sony has decided to stick with it, and in all honesty, it’s probably the aspect of the new pad that remains the same.

Gone are the colours of the four facing symbols, they’re now clear white/grey and the same for the D-Pad which has a slight, albeit cheaper looking design feel.

The back triggers are where it gets really interesting this time around. The R2 and L2 triggers are both adaptable and will be programmed to work differently with different games, something Sony says will make gamers more immersed in what they’re playing, using the example of the tension felt when drawing a bow to shoot an arrow.

The haptic feedback exceeds just the triggers and takes on the whole controller, providing sensations the gamer can feel in their hands, Sony using the example of the slow grittiness felt when driving a car through the mud.

Form factor and size-wise, whilst they might say it’s designed to feel less bulky in the hands, first impressions are that the controller will be the direct opposite, a big plastic and surely heavier form factor from Sony this time around.

The share button is now called the ‘create’ button and the controller also features a built-in microphone, USB-C port for charging and a slight rework of the analogue sticks.

Is the DualSense Controller Needlessly Radical In Design?

Sony themselves say that the DualSense represents the most radical departure from previous controllers in the PlayStation stable. They aren’t wrong, and whilst this isn’t close to the worst moments in product reveals by Sony, there is a sense of 2005 about all of this.

Remember the infamous boomerang controller originally slated for the PS3 way back when?

In terms of simplicity on the eye, Xbox surely takes the win on the controller battle heading into the next generation.

In contrast, the DualSense looks needlessly radical and points to just as striking a console design when, for the first time, it’s likely that Sony goes with a largely white look for the PS5 box.

If nothing else, what Sony revealed today signals that they’re serious about making all aspects of their new console feel, and look, like a big leap from the current into the future.

Whether that means a controller that will feel good in the hands, and develop games for, remains an interesting scenario still to play out.

Review: WrestleMania 36 Was Pretty Good But Also Terrible

The 36th edition of the top wrestling showcase was always going to be a challenging production for WWE to pull off, and whilst that certainly showed at times, WrestleMania 36 probably exceeded original expectations.

Unlike the usual jam-packed stadium experience with 80,000 wrestling fans in attendance, WrestleMania this year was forced to be held behind closed doors in Orlando at WWE’s Performance Center due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speculation prior to the weekend was that most of the wrestlers in the company felt that the event should have been postponed, but WWE owner Vince McMahon decided to go ahead.

Some great matches, multiple title changes and downright weird moments will provide a lot for wrestling fans to reflect on.

What You Need To Know From The Biggest Matches

On night one, Braun Strowman defeated Goldberg in a quick encounter to become the new WWE Universal Champion, and to close out the show on night two, Drew McIntire overcame Brock Lesnar to capture the WWE Championship.

Neither of the two matches for WWE’s biggest titles were altogether memorable but provided a well-earned reward for both of the winners, especially McIntire.

Other big moments of the show were the Boneyard Match between the Undertaker and AJ Styles in a heavily edited, cinematic experience which drew a lot of praise from wrestling fans who lauded the return of Undertaker’s ‘American Badass’.

Edge and Randy Orton also had one of the most brutal Last Man Standing matches in recent memory in a match which culminated a nine-year comeback to wrestling for ‘The Rated R Superstar’ Edge who was forced to retire from performing in 2011.

The two women’s championship singles matches were both highly physical, close and entertaining encounters. Becky Lynch retained her Raw Women’s Championship after beating former cage fighter Shayna Baszler and Charlotte Flair defeated NXT Women’s Champion Rhea Ripley to capture that gold.

Kevin Owens finally got his WrestleMania moment, defeating Seth Rollins in what turned out to be a no DQ match, Sami Zayn became the new Intercontinental Champion after defeating Daniel Bryan, and Alesteir Black got the better of Bobby Lashley.

In terms of the Firefly Fun House match between John Cena and Bray Wyatt… god only knows what happened there.

You can read full results from all the matches at WrestleMania here.

Did WrestleMania Deliver Or Did It Flop?

WrestleMania 36 delivered the best show it possibly could’ve given the circumstances.

It was great at times, bad at times, downright weird at times, but most of the talent on the roster got its time in what would usually be a visual backdrop of the biggest annual wrestling event.

There was a lot that wrestling fans could’ve done without, though.

In some ways it was patchy, but this was always going to be the case with an empty arena. It just didn’t feel like WrestleMania, if that makes any sense.

You can hear more of our thoughts on WrestleMania 36 on our podcast where we delve further into all the action and react to the bright spots and low spots.

Quality Sports Journalism In NZ Cannot Be Replaced Swiftly

New Zealand’s media industry is reeling following a dark week which saw two of its biggest institutions shut down.

Let’s take a look at the week that was.

First, it was Radio Sport who stopped broadcasting on Monday after its owner NZME switched the frequency of New Zealand’s only sports-dedicated sports radio station over to Newstalk ZB. 

Hundreds of jobs were lost, and not just the voices you hear on the airwaves. You’re also talking about the producers, the reporters in the field and all the researchers. 

Furthermore, it all happened incredibly quickly, almost faster than the speed in which news breaks on a day to day basis. 

Radio Sport housed New Zealand’s best minds in the sports media business and their departure simply cannot be filled in terms of talent. When, or even if, Radio Sport were to return in some fashion, many of those talents won’t be coming back either. 

Some say that the decision had been a long time coming due to the network simply not making enough money for NZME to remain commercially viable, but that’s not a black mark against the journalists rather the model in which they were working. 

The media business relies on advertising to pay its workers and advertising has all but dried up since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in New Zealand, just take a look at newspapers recently or tune into the television, the same goes for radio. 

Then on Thursday, the shock of all shocks, Bauer Media announced its closure in New Zealand, bringing with it the death nail to some of the most beloved magazines that have served readers for multiple generations. 

Shortly after, speculation was similar to the Radio Sport closure, that it wasn’t so much because of COVID-19 alone, but the implications of not being able to print magazines during the lockdown served as the perfect excuse to make a decision that had long been in the pipeline. 

Today, the Government has been criticised by many in the media for not helping out Bauer Media with any financial assistance, but the Prime Minister herself says that the company refused to take wage subsidy allowances. 

Whatever the real truth, the impact on workers at Bauer Media makes the losses Radio Sport sustained look tiny. Journalists, columnists and editors for magazines like The Listener, the Woman’s Day/Weekly, and Metro Magazine (just to name a few) are well into triple figures when you put the entire New Zealand branch of Bauer together. 

So, with all this news and the hundreds of jobs lost to the business, where to from here to the New Zealand media? 

Filling The Void, But At What Credible Value? 

We’ve already seen many a social media pundit quickly try to turn the closure of media outlets into an opportunity to fill the void, so the answer about where to from here can be found in that, social media will give the opportunities for everyone to keep sports media going in different forms. 

But despite that, quality journalism for sports and magazine is in grave peril right now. 

COVID-19 and its impact on New Zealand will likely to be the single story for our media moving forward. For the established sports media, it’s a gigantic game of wait and see for the next while. 

Until the sporting landscape gets somewhere close to being back to normal then there really isn’t a sustainable market for it, because the news will quickly dry up and this will expose the flaws of opportunistic tendencies by those who think they can replace and do better. 

If anything, what COVID-19 should teach us is how important professional competitions really are to the business of sports journalism. 

If you break it all down, the news isn’t just what happens on game day and the fallout from it, the news is really about the stories within the sport, player transfers and injuries, what franchises are doing or not doing, etc etc. 

Don’t discount the importance of contacts that some of the sports journalists keep either. 

Social media pundits can and will successfully be able to keep the sports conversation going within their respective bubbles but without legitimate access to sources and the knowledge of journalistic practices, the value of their respective mediums will be low. 

If six years of doing this sports journalism thing (semi-professionally before transitioning into the mainstream) has taught me anything it’s that the story always matters, not the chatter. 

You don’t have a story without the sport and the access to it, what you have is chatter. 

That’s not journalism, it doesn’t require that hard work required to verify fact from opinion, the ability to be able to meet deadline multiple times per day, or to go back and re-write or re-produce content to meet the quality required for mainstream publication. 

The biggest test that’s about to face the business on these shores is ensuring that when sports media does return to what it was before COVID-19, it maintains the talents it had to ensure the quality and substance remains. 

The Opposite Of Binging Your TV

A cold, drizzly Thursday morning has dawned in the rural King Country. It’s 2003, school is a drag, I just can’t math to save my life, but if I can just get through it this the reward waits for me later that evening. Thursday means two things in the Pulman household, takeaways from the Golden Lantern (hands down, the best takeaway joint in Te Kuiti owned by a lovely family) and the latest events taking place on Coro’s cobbles.

Yes, as a young boy, I was into Coronation Street, far from the sports and politically obsessed product you see today. Coro was a thing for me, mostly because that’s what Mum had gotten me into over the years. She was so dedicated to that show, you can’t help but decide one day to flick over and see what all these relatively normal people are doing on the streets. So, I started to watch with her more regularly and it became a ritual. Mum and I would pile into my parents’ bedroom, while Dad switched on American Chopper out in the lounge. As the first ad break came, “how’s the Choppers going?” Mum would yell out to Dad, “yeah” he would respond in his typical dry tone.

As dull as it was, that’s what we did every Thursday night, without fail. I’d come home from school, scramble to get homework done and then take a quick shower before picking up the landline and ordering the takeaways after the first segment of TV3 news was done. There was no better way to wash down the fat-soaked fish batter other than a glorious Dilmah Tea, just in time for the beginning of Coro.

Fast forward 17-years and I’m in my two-bedroom flat watching the first episode of Netflix’s hot new drama, The Witcher. It’s a cool show, based off a book and videogame I never cared to discover, but this is kind of what platforms like Netflix are good at delivering on, as well as original IP’s that take off in popularity from seemingly nowhere.

It takes me little time to get through the eight hour-long episodes of Witcher S1, including binging the last three all in one night. I certainly didn’t have to wait another week to find out what happened to the bore main character that is Geralt, or find out if the seemingly crazy Yennefer was actually going to turn out to be the unsung hero.

But then something happened. When I was most enjoying this new show, I couldn’t help but quietly wish that I could, somehow, find a way to delay the enjoyment and go back to the feelings of this being something to look forward to each week. You know, like those good days in 2003.

But Netflix, coupled with all the trends on my social media feeds, is doing all it can to push me toward binging through and joining the discussion about this show I’ve really enjoyed.

The problem is that the enjoyment of modern-day television has such a short lifespan. Quickly thereafter, I’m onto the next big show, and then the next one.

Today’s state of binge-watching has all come about from one show, when upon its release, the company creating it had a vision of what many others previously scoffed at.

Wondery’s fantastic podcast series Business Wars takes a deep dive into the history of Netflix. Based on Netflixed: The Epic Battle for America’s Eyeballs by Gina Keating, the podcast explores how, on January 31st, 2013, a meeting was held between Netflix’s head of content Ted Sarandos and respected filmmaker David Fincher. It was just hours before the first season of House of Cards dropped online with every episode immediately available. It was a bold, first-time move that Netflix hoped would catapult their internet streaming video service to the top.

Releasing all 13 episodes at once not only worked for Netflix, but it changed the very nature of how consumers would watch their favourite TV shows, forever. Furthermore, Netflix’s political thriller was also available on DVD, but with other seasons like Orange is the New Black also offering the same “all in one” online drop, the service could push ahead because its content was going to keep on coming and subscriptions were rising.

Little is it known that HBO, arguably Netflix’s biggest competitor at the time, predicted that the idea of letting audiences watch the entire season of a top-tier show was a sure-fire way to kill growth and lose subscribers.

Less than a decade later, a growing majority of people are watching the latest seasons of their favorite shows, in their entirety, in one or two sittings. Binge watching isn’t just unique, it’s become the norm.

Then came Disney Plus. When it was announced that Disney’s marquee offering at launch, a Star Wars spinoff series called The Mandalorian, was to be a weekly episodic release, the reaction drew a nervous gasp.

And yet, The Mandalorian was still successful despite drawing the season out over eight weeks. Disney’s hot new show was 31.1% more in demand than the average title worldwide, catapulting it to the top and surpassing even the likes of Stranger Things, widely viewed as one of the top shows today.

The Mandalorian proves that if you’ve got a show that will likely draw in a large audience (like Star Wars did, and like House of Cards would’ve) then it can work. The risk of losing subscribers to a service is always there, no matter how you deliver the content.

I’d also state that the shows we are watching today feature some of the greatest production and writing value we’ve ever seen, but I just wonder if that is short-changed short on the time and attention front that these shows deserve by getting through them all so quickly.

Think about how easy it’s been to start, enjoy and finish these shows since that famous gamble taken by Netflix with House of Cards seven years ago, the very nature of how we consume media, including our TV, has changed remarkably thanks to the growth of technology that is constantly adapting. But has it necessarily changed the cost and time required to develop TV?

No, because the binge isn’t just proficient in terms of consumer watching patterns. There is also binge-spending and it’s already increased from $12b to $15b, by Netflix alone since 2018.

That’s some serious investment and subsequent production time, somehow it feels wrong to me that I can, so easily, be all done with that and onto the next thing so quickly.

Freelancers Like Us Are Going To Be OK During COVID-19

Last week, on Twitter, I posted that I’d block anyone who played the ‘feel sorry for me’ or ‘please donate to my Patreon because I’m now out of work’ game.

The bottom line is this: we are all in a s**t situation thanks to COVID-19, and freelancers like ourselves have taken a big hit financially. Now is the time to have a bit of perspective, as hard as it might be.

Personally, if I am to be self-indulgent for a moment, I am now all but redundant until further notice. I am not the only one.

It would be easy for me, like many others who have been in the same position recently, to go on an all-out content push in the hopes that it would fill the void of what I may have had before.

Perhaps I am even guilty of this at times, but IMO there is a lot of gross and shameless self-promotion on social media these days.

When I transitioned from social media journo to regular mainstream journo, I noticed how loud the Twitter-sphere really was. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but it’s just loud, getting louder by the day in fact.

There are some who are really good at promoting themselves and have some genuinely good content worth following them for, but there are others who

So as the lockdown begins and we ponder the next month (at least) of being confined largely to our homes, what’s the best way to deal with this? There’s certainly been no shortage of guides, how-to blogs and inspiring stories of how people are making the most of the situation floating around the internet in the past couple of weeks.

The first way to make the best of self-isolation is to understand that you’ll likely go through different stages. You’ll tell yourself you’ve got a plan, but the key moving forward is to not overdo anything. That includes making content for the sake of making content because you feel like your platform can’t afford to take a break.

For some, it may also be a good opportunity to go back to some of the platforms we’ve let get dusty, or potentially some of us can put ourselves out there and create completely new ones.

Personally, my first plan was to get back into streaming on Twitch, record a ton of extra podcasts and even begin writing a book.

But in reality, I’ve really only done a couple of streams and podcasts, spending the rest of my time keeping a close eye on the news, watching Netflix and playing PlayStation.

It’s going to take time to adjust to our new lives, and you will likely stumble off the mark. I know that I certainly have.

Today, by way of this blog, is the first time I’ve managed to get some concentrated writing done, and I did it with no idea of what I was going to type on the blank word document other than the ideology of getting something published online.

That’s probably why the general direction of this piece is all over the shop.

PlayStation got in contact this morning, the new Predator: Hunting Grounds trial weekend is open for gaming media and fans alike from today, so I will have a go at that and write up a preview blog for the game on Monday after I’ve had some hands-on time.

Us rugby journos had a phone conference with the Chiefs CEO and media manager earlier and I am glad to report that there will be some opportunities to talk to players about their respective self-isolation experiences.

I also redesigned the blog, so if you are reading this, be sure to let me know how it looks!

Stay safe, don’t push yourself too hard. Keep what’s most important nestled in the forefront of your mind, you are (hopefully) healthy and safe, surely this is what really matters in the current climate.