Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The modern day gossip columnist

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One of this country’s abiding mysteries is how one man can capture the attention of the news media and even the House of Representatives so often and for such a prolonged period. Such a man is Cameron Slater, son of a past president of the National Party and a thorn in the side of many members of parliament, mostly from the left, but who is not averse to using his acerbic pen to berate politicians and persons of prominence of all persuasions.

It was pointed out that he was mentioned over 100 times over three sittings of parliament recently; he probably has his own button on the Hansard recorders. These days you can’t turn on the radio, or read news stories without being bombarded with negatives about Cameron Slater. Many are vying to convince the rank and file that this is some kind of anti-Christ that has come to live amongst us.

So what is it that he actually does?

He runs a blog.

To be fair, not just any blog.

He manages to attract about 240,000 readers a day which probably makes him one of the biggest “newspapers” in the country. In April of this year he won the Canon Media award for being New Zealand’s best blogger and just last month he won Netguide’s prize for “Best Blog of the Year.”

I have been a regular reader of Slater’s Whale Oil Beef Hooked. The site is most entertaining; habitually outrageous and more often than not over the top with its iconoclastic claims.

His is not the only blog I frequently visit. I also peruse The Daily Blog which is as vitriolic towards the right as “Whale Oil” is of the left and is edited by Slater’s nemesis Martyn “Bomber” Bradbury. David Farrar’s Kiwiblog is also a good read, undoubtedly right leaning, and I balance this by accessing a blog titled Slightly Left of Centre.

And then there is ex-Dominion editor Karl du Fresne’s blog, awash with common sense utterances to round off a day of thoroughly good reading.

Just like newspapers, blogs are merely a form of entertainment, but the pen is said to be mightier than the sword, hence the disquiet.

Slater first came to national prominence and attracted a whole coterie of potential readers when he exposed the dastardly dalliances of Auckland mayor Len Brown. He already had a large following at that stage, but his audience doubled during the period and has hardly diminished since.

Nicky Hager tried to bring him down with his book Dirty Politics, but like the Len Brown saga, it simply increased his devotees.

Writing in last Saturday’s Dominion-Post journalist Tracy Watkins said: “John Key is badly tainted by his association with Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater whose brand is repugnant to most voters.”

Slater responded by publishing a most unflattering photo of Ms Watkins and said his “repugnant brand” was continuing to build to an ever increasing audience.

Ms Watkins seems to have missed the point that the Prime Minister’s association with Mr Slater was well documented before the election, but appeared not to have affected his constituency.

Slater is of course just a 21st century version of the gossip columnists of old. Nobody would admit to ever reading them, but they were syndicated internationally and helped sell newspapers and periodicals over a long period.

Names that spring to mind are Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons and Walter Winchell. In more modern times we’ve had Matt Drudge, David Hartnell and Metro magazines Felicity Ferret.

“The Ferret” was unceremoniously retired in 2010. She was described as being daring, embarrassing, crass, irreverent, funny and just a little bit mean.

Sounds a bit like a feminine version of Cameron Slater. “The Ferret” however was said to be the social adventures of Metro staff, although Auckland café queen Judith Baragwanath was suspected of being the central contributor.

Slater is now threatening a new web-based media outlet he will call Freed. This will be a counter-punch to Dirty Politics he says and is likely to embarrass many of New Zealand’s mainstream-media journalists.

He was recently taken to court by someone who believed they had been wronged and subsequently faced substantial court costs and legal fees as a result. His staff made a plea to readers to help by contributing towards the expenses. I didn’t respond, but many must have because the fund was over-subscribed in just a few days.

A faithful readership that is generous as well; seems like a good recipe for continued success.

But Mr Slater ought not to forget the adage: “In the case of scandal, as in that of a robbery, the receiver is always thought as bad as the thief.”

“The blogs, mad and bad as they are, add richness and diversity to the political debate.” - Rodney Hide


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