Disability Narratives & The Media

As a journalist, and as a person with a disability, this subject is of particular interest to me. Having been a part of the industry since 2015, I can tell you two things from experience.

Stories that involve disability, in any of its many contexts, are notoriously well received by most editors. At least that’s been my experience, I haven’t had a single editor throw a story back in my face and say “nobody cares”.

Quite the opposite in fact. I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve had a story about disability rejected.

The second thing is that context matters, background research matters, and an understanding of the long-held frustrations within the disability community is a must. That takes time, something that the news business typically does not have, but in doing so, you’ll quickly learn that language matters when stories do get published.

A phrase such as “suffers from” is a great example. It might be easy language, but it’s also inherently assumptious and places the entire life of the disabled person under an assumed cloud of suffering.

The reality is that most disabled people don’t suffer from their disability. Dealing with the toxic disability support system? Now that might be something we suffer from, but it isn’t the be all of our daily lives, because it implies the majority of us don’t have one.

As a journalist, former public speaker, current radio host, boyfriend, son, nephew, et cetera – I can assure you there is much more to life than the wheelchair in which I sit.

It’s imperative that news stories published by us in the mainstream media about disability are respectful and accurate. It’s also worth noting that journalists, and this is a mistake I’ve made in the past, aren’t always great at thinking about how a person with a disability may wish to be described.

I wrote one particular story last year, calling someone featured in my story a “disability advocate”. In my mind I thought it was ok, then I saw a tweet from the Chief Exec of a major disability organization that inferred my very article framed that particular person in what she called an “ablest narrative”.

It then dawned upon me, if ableism is to be present in how we the media report on disability, then we should probably have a look at addressing it. Simply relying on the ideology that reporting on a news story involving people with disabilities brings to light the issues impacting that community, and therefore brings about some change, is a flawed approach to have in my view.

If not, there will be a growing distrust between the disability community and the media. In our reporting of the news, and it’s also true that this goes well beyond just stories impacting people with disabilities, we need to slow down a bit and think about the wider contexts that are put in place because of the language being used.

None of that was done in some of the media coverage this week surrounding basketballer Thomas Abercrombie and his children, who also happen to be on the Autism spectrum.

Let’s hope more care is taken next time.

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 Changing Nature Of How We Consume Media

The date is June 1st, 1960, and it is the first broadcast of television in New Zealand. 

From then until the 1989, broadcasts were mostly controlled by the Government. New Zealand’s first pay-to-view television came in 1990 – and Sky Television still holds a large part of the market share today.

Who could’ve thought that in little over 50-years time, the landscape of what seemed to be the one constant in home entertainment would change forever.

By todays standards; 50-years seems almost like an eternity for one solitary entity to remain the primary way people consume their entertainment. But that’s exactly what happened with TV.

In the late 2000s, Apple released a phone that caught the attention of the world, and it would change the way people consume media forever.

The iPhone was a game changer, and nothing like it has been achieved since.

We’ve seen Samsung battle Apple at the top of the smartphone market, but companies like Huawai and Sony have also made significant progress in the past few years.

And then came instant streaming, on demand, and relatively cheap ways of viewing the content that people want, not what they are given. Yes, I am talking about Netflix.

Netflix has fundamentally ‘changed the game’, especially in recent times. It’s cheaper to create content and doesn’t rely on the backing of major television companies. Netflix allows people to stream content on their phones and tablets, but a large percentage of the service’s user base still uses it on their televisions at home.

So therefore, it keeps a tradition that seemed doomed not too long ago very much still alive. That tradition? Consuming content on a fixed television screen in peoples homes, or at least those who choose to view it that way.

Sky Television’s Future Will Be Determined By Their Own Values 

With all this change toward a more digital and noncommittal nature of media consumption – it leaves companies like Sky Television facing an uncertain future.

Sky’s biggest, and perhaps only real drawcard right now, is their exclusive rights to the rugby.

Overpriced, yes, but still not real value for money when you compare to the likes of Netflix and others. Currently, Sky’s only alternative to having a monthly subscription with a set top box is what they call FANPASS – and that actually costs more to buy than the prior.

How is it that Sky can justify a few hundred dollars for six months of online sports content in 2017?

Sky have signalled their intention to remain on top of the rugby coverage market and they did this when they took most of New Zealand’s media companies to court over what they call “theft of content”.

Sky’s rationale behind this is due to news sites using video clips of games in their editorial coverage, but they simply don’t realise that video has become a key component of how news is delivered in 2017.

The Changing Nature Of How We Consume Media 

Is TV a dying form of media? No way.

If radio can survive the TV broadcast revolution; then TV can definitely survive the instant streaming revolution. Prices for Netflix and other only-online services will likely increase over time, and it could become a point of contention in the future.

But TV, and to a lesser extent media, still involves consumers looking at screens and working with devices that continue to adapt themselves to fit into our lifestyle. How we consume these mediums is changing, and that is the only certainty right now.

The Bugged Meeting Room

On Saturday morning it was reported that the All Blacks had discovered they’d been bugged. But the real story started well before then.

As it stands right now – the matter has been referred on to NSW Police.

It’s clear that this had been done well before the media ran the story, but the media likely knew of the situation well before Saturday when the story broke.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said that information wasn’t passed onto police until Steve Tew, NZ Rugby CEO, had arrived in Sydney.

Since then there has been a whole lot of speculation as to who planted the device, and what the motive behind it was. We may never know the answer to this. The most likely scenario was that the device was planted on behalf of a sports betting agency. Continue reading The Bugged Meeting Room